My Fail… You know, at the time I blamed the adults in the “big church.” Back then, I would never have imagined calling this a failure but it was and the implications were something that in my immaturity I could not fathom.
I loved wearing the persona and meeting the common expectations of the “youth guy.” I used this as license to commit all manner of jackassery because, hey, I’m the youth guy! Now, make no mistake, I took the evangelism and discipleship of my students seriously, I just supplemented it with immaturity and bad ideas. I liked to think of myself as relevant and edgy as we played dodgeball on the roof, had parking lot bonfire nights (not the church’s parking lot) and other stupidity that I thought gave the kids a reason to invite their friends. When these ideas were placed before me in the full weight of stupid, I would wear the mantle of youth guy as a protective coat that might mitigate responsibility, because, hey, I’m the youth guy!
With any piece of clothing, if you wear it too long, the fit and the cleanliness of such a coat should diminish its usefulness. Consider the third day for a pair of under britches… They seem ok when you pick them off the floor, but by mid-morning the itch tells you that you have made a grave error. For me, this came on a fateful spring morning that saw April Fool’s Day fall on a Sunday.
I led our youth on an epic prank that honestly, needs to die after this last retelling. It was that bad. As a joke on the congregation, we advertised a car wash fundraiser for the youth ministry. Just leave your keys with us, we will wash your car and put it back into the parking space. The trusting nature of our congregation led many people to do this, and pay us money for the task. They did not look at a calendar, or wonder why a summer activity would be done in April in the Rocky Mountain.
What we did was epic(ly stupid). We took all the cars, drove them through a mud pit, changed all the pre-set radio stations to a Spanish news channel, put the cars back in the parking lot and called it a day. Hey, I’m the youth guy…
Needless to say, April Fool’s is not a holiday that demonstrates love. Not only did I hurt a lot of relationships, I damaged the relationship between the church and the youth. I didn’t realize that by adopting the notion of fun youth guy, I caused a rift in our church that led to the separation of the body. We had a youth group and we had a church. I had thoughts like, “they need to lighten up and live a little,” which was an immature response to being held accountable.
One of the signs of a healthy church is multi-generational ministry – when the silos of kids, youth and adult ministry are demolished and what remains is a body of believers that serves and is served. What I created was a separation between generations and that was my biggest failure in ministry.
Like all failures, there is a way back. By humbly asking for forgiveness and applying the lessons learned, I was able to turn the stupidest moment of my adult life into a victory. I am now very aware of labels and how I wear them, as the implications of those labels reach far beyond myself. Immaturity and pride almost ended my time in ministry because, hey, I was the youth guy.